As I have stated before I am a retired MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) fighter and currently a Combatives Instructor for the US Army. It is my responsibility to train our soldiers in a variety Martial Arts and those training events include fighting in MMA events.
One fall I had eight soldiers training for the Annual Army Championships (see this years here) and in preparation for that event we went to an amateur local show. Once we got our soldiers registered I took them back to their locker rooms and began the long process of preparing them for their bouts. This is a pretty simple process. They get changed into their shorts, hoodies, then get their hands wrapped, taped, and then begin warming up.
While taping one of the soldier’s hands I was looking around at the other competitors and began noticing some things that spoke to the level of competition. It was at this moment that it seemed like I was stuck in slow motion. There were corner men taping hands with medical gauze instead of boxing gauze or using pre wrap to make a small little pad to cover the knuckles. The smell of fear, excitement, sweat, and nerves filled the air. I looked over to the other side of the room and there were brothers holding very small Thai pads (kicking pads) for one other and neither had a clue what they were doing.
So I finished wrapping the hands of the guys competing I began walking around and talking to guys to see what this odd sensation was all about. As I talked to guys about their training I heard all kinds of answers like: “well me and my brother train together in our garage with the Gracie Video’s,” or “I don’t train, I just want to fight,” or “I have been training at this local school and wanted to test myself.” It didn’t seem to matter what answer I got it only increased the weirdness of the night. I couldn’t explain what was happening.
As the night wore on and the order of the card was released I saw that one of my better soldiers named Vinnie was fighting one of the brothers who had next to no training. I walked over to Vinnie and said, “listen your opponent has next to no training, take him down and choke him. Don’t hurt him.” When the fight came up he literally walked out secured the takedown the brother turned to his belly gave up his back and sank in a rear naked choke finishing the fight in about sixty seconds.
At the conclusion of the fight the brother got to his feet and began running around the ring with his hands in the air yelling, screaming, and celebrating. I was confused for a brief second. I wondered did he actually think he won in some weird way? It was in that moment the entire night made sense to me as I heard distinctly “I am a man hear me roar.” When I looked back at everything that had happened that night I realized what I had been watching was a rites of passage to these young men.
Look at our culture, look at our educational system, look at our politics, look at our churches, look at our parenting and ask yourself the question; Is there anything that separates the men from the boys and the girls from the boys? The answer is no! How does a young boy know he has reached manhood? When has he passed into the age of responsibility as a man? The closest thing we have in America is the military but even that isn’t the same as a rite of passage from boyhood to manhood.
It is imperative that we as a culture begin to instill in our men a sense of courage, honor, nobility, responsibility, virtue, and heroism. That we give them a way to move from boyhood to manhood and that it be a public celebration of all that it means to be a man besides having the equipment.